Dáil Éireann - Volume 243 - 16 December, 1969

RTE Programme: Establishment of Tribunal.

The Taoiseach: I move the motion standing in my name:

That it is expedient that a tribunal be established for inquiring into the following definite matters of urgent public importance:

1. The planning, preparation, arrangement, production and presentation of the recent television programme on illegal moneylending, that is to say, that part of the “7 Days” feature broadcast [1516] on television by Radio Telefís Éireann on the 11th November, 1969, which related to unlicensed moneylenders and their activities.

2. The authenticity of the programme and, in particular, the adequacy of the information on which the programme was based and whether or not the statements, comments and implications of the programme as to the number of unlicensed moneylenders operating in the city and county of Dublin and the scope of their operations, and the use of violence, or threats of violence, to secure repayments of moneys illegally lent, amounted to a correct and fair representation of the facts.

3. The inquiries on behalf of Radio Telefís Éireann, and the films, tapes, statements, scripts, records, notes and other material in their possession, which relate to the programme.

4. The inquiries on behalf of the Garda Síochána, and the statements, taken by the Garda Síochána, which relate to the programme.

I do not think it is necessary for me to go into detail on this motion. The matter has been fairly well mentioned, if not fully discussed in the House; certainly it has been reported at some length in the newspapers. The RTE programme mentioned in the notice of motion suggested that unlicensed moneylending, backed by strong-arm methods, existed on a substantial scale in the Dublin area.

The RTE Authority subsequently stated that the programme was authentic and that it did not present a distorted or exaggerated picture of the social problem of illegal moneylending in Dublin. On the other hand, the Minister for Justice said in this House on 26th November in answer to a Dáil question, firstly, that the allegation that strong-arm methods are being used by unlicensed moneylenders is, in the opinion of the Garda Síochána, without foundation in fact; secondly, that while the garda know that some unlicensed moneylenders operate, their numbers and scale of operations are [1517] nothing like that suggested by the programme; and thirdly, that statements made in the programme purporting to be confessions by moneylenders about moneylending and strong-arm methods can be dismissed as wholly valueless.

As I said on 2nd December, 1969, in this House, the Government, because of this conflict, decided that a judicial inquiry ought to be set up. May I suggest we are not here this evening to debate whether or not RTE is correct in relation to these statements to which I have referred or the extent of moneylending in the Dublin area, nor are we debating whether the evidence made available to the Minister for Justice by the Garda on the same subject is correct. What we are debating is whether the terms of reference are wide enough as I believe they are to ensure that the matter will be fully and properly investigated.

When this motion is passed by both Houses it is my intention to appoint a tribunal of inquiry pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921. The tribunal will have the powers of the High Court in enforcing the attendance of witnesses, examining them on oath and in compelling the production of documents. The proceedings will be public unless, in the opinion of the tribunal, it is in the public interest thought expedient to bar the public for reasons connected with the inquiry or the nature of the evidence to be given. I doubt if that will be necessary in this case. I should imagine there will be no difficulty about having all the proceedings in public.

I have said it would be desirable to have the tribunal set up as quickly as possible, firstly because it would be possible for the tribunal, in the days before Christmas, to decide on their modus operandi. It will be necessary in the first instance for the Attorney General to seek from the Garda and RTE certain statements within their possession so that he would in turn be able to make available relevant evidence to people who will properly appear before the tribunal on behalf of interested parties. There would then follow the preliminary meeting of the [1518] tribunal. Because it is envisaged that three members of the Bench will be involved, it is desirable that as much as possible of the work should be undertaken and put through in the month of January when the courts will not be as busy as they would be later on.

I hope, therefore, it will be possible to conclude this motion tonight so that the Seanad, which will be sitting tomorrow, can also debate the terms of reference and pass the necessary resolution.